Her phone pings with a text. The words “I’m here” light up her screen. Looking up, she spots the minivan and ambles towards the car.
“Only five minutes late this time,” she teases her friend as she settles into the passenger seat.
He apologizes, and they head on their way to a coffee shop.
“This song sucks,” she says as some rap song blasts through the speakers.
“My music is on shuffle. Go ahead and skip through until you find a song you like,” he tells her as he hands her his phone.
“The responsibility,” she bemoans. Skipping through, she smiles as Poker Face by Lady Gaga starts to play.
The song throws her into the back seat of a car with her family.
The cloth seat irritates her skin as the fabric absorbs the sweat from her thighs. Shifting, she pulls her thighs up, drawing them to her body. The sweat soaked fabric protests her movement by scratching her exposed skin. After a few seconds against the warmed cloth, she leans forward, her movement coming to a halt when the seat belt tightens. She yanks the torture belt. The safety engages, locking the belt in place, further adding to her discomfort.
Air warmed to an uncomfortable degree by both the summer heat and multiple bodies refuses to flow out of the windows; it stays stagnant, lazing around in the car. The vent above her mocks her as it calmly directs hot, foul smelling air her way. Slamming the vent shut, she crosses her arms in a huff, rightfully annoyed with baking in an oven.
Resting her head against the window, she focuses on the soft hum of music that pours out of the speakers instead of the hot mouthed breathing her brother is doing. Mouthing the words of the song, her head bobs slightly to the beat. The song picks up in speed, the singer’s voice growing in volume. It begs her to sing along. So she does.
“God, shut up,” her brother groans, jabbing her side with his pointer finger.
Rolling her eyes, she goes back to mouthing the words.
The song fades into another. As Poker Face by Lady Gaga starts, her hackles rise while an evil glint reflects in her brother’s eyes. A sinister smile causes a warning shiver to shake her body. Her hands instinctively go up into a defensive pose. “Don’t,” she warns, wariness bleeding into her voice.
Uncaring of her objection, he greedily partakes in her torture. “Poke-her-face,” he sings along with the music as he starts jabbing her in the stomach with his fingers. She squirms, trying to escape his touch but trapped between the door and her seat. Uncontrollable laughs filters through the car along with an occasional please stop.
She rolls her eyes as she remembers when that song would play nonstop on the radio. It was pure torture. But her mood lifts and her memory shifts as the line “I wanna hold ‘em like they do in Texas, please” is sung.
She dusts sand from her feet as a salty breeze blows through the open windows. Sitting cross-legged, she watches, mesmerized, as her brother shuffles the cards. They stack together in a neat manner, first bending down then flexing up; he has perfected the bridge.
“Have you delegated the chips?” he asks with his eyes on her as he shuffles the card once more, showcasing his skills.
“Yes,” she says as she flips a chip between her knuckles. The flimsy blue chip awkwardly and slowly shifts from one knuckle to the next before she fumbles the hard plastic. It clunks against the table, dancing a small jig before the movement slows it to a stop.
“So one, five, twenty-five?” she asks as she points to the white chips then red chips and finally the blue chips.
“Sure,” he nods in agreement. He passes the deck to her so she cuts it about half way.
Grabbing the deck back, he deals a hand, the cards smoothly flying on the surface of the table and stopping right in front of her. She pushes her anti into the center of the table before giving her hand a peak. A glossy ace and jack stare back at her, giving her a boost of confidence. She tries to suppress her smile, but every time she thinks of her winning hand, the tips of her lips curl upwards. Fighting and failing to contain her joyful smile, she brings her hand up to her face to hide her expression. She’s terrible at suppressing her cues. She apparently holds an illusion of randomness which trips up her brother. Really, she doesn’t know whether a royal flush or three of a kind is better. And she doesn’t know the difference in odds when playing with two players versus five players. Luckily, her brother doesn’t notice her facial cues as he’s engrossed in calculating his odds.
Picking up two whites, she drops them into the pile. “Raise 2,” she says in what she hopes is a passable cool, calm, and collected voice. Chill. If she appears too eager, he’ll fold. She has to be steady when raising the pot.
“Call,” he says as he moves his chips into the pile.
Time for the flop. He burns the top card, then reveals three more in succession: a three of hearts, a jack of diamonds, and a five of hearts. She feels a giddy rush when the jack is revealed.
She looks at her cards again, acting as if her card’s weren’t memorable. The jack of clubs smiles back at her. After a beat of faux contemplation she says, “raise ten.”
Another card burned and turned over: the six of spades.
“Raise 10,” she smiles briefly before she suppresses her outer happiness, certain of her win.
“Call and raise 20,” he says, surprising her. She looks at the cards at the table, wondering if he might have the cards needed for a straight. He might… Or he’s bluffing.
Finishing her internal debate, she goes with her gut, calling.
The last card of the round overturned. A four of hearts. Shoot.
“Raise 30,” she says, hoping he balks.
“Call and raise 30,” he says, playing along with her game of chicken.
“Call,” she says, ending the round. He’s bluffing, she reassures herself.
She flips both cards over, not wanting to draw out the suspense. She better have won. “Pair jacks and ace high,” she states.
He reveals a king and a three.
A glee filled smile swallows her face whole. Pair jacks beats pair three. She won.
Pulling the pile of chips towards her, a satisfying feeling fills her chest at the clink of chips stacking. And sure, she will most likely lose all her chips by the end of the night; her brother is a great poker player, far better than her. But being able to best her brother for a couple rounds will always make her ecstatic.
As the line “a little gamblin’ is fun when you’re with me” is sung, she smiles. The lyrics encompass her feelings perfectly. Giddy with the memory, she belts out a line that’s always stood out to her, pulling her into yet another memory.
“Russian roulette is not the same without a gun, ” she sings at the top of her lungs.
The wind rushes in and out of the windows, swallowing her voice as well as her siblings’ voices, allowing them to yell and scream and sing.
When her brother played this song, prefacing it by calling it an underrated class, she was surprised by his music choice. Normally he’s more rap or country or other stereotypical guy music. Not early 2000s pop. But as she watches him bob his head along with the music, she smiles, ecstatic to see this side of him.
After bouldering together and now on their way to one of her favorite lunch places, she’s content, enjoying spending the day with her brother and sister. God, she’s going to miss them when she’s off to college and they’re still here, two hours away. How dare they.
She laughs gleefully when her sister speeds past a yellow.
“You ran that red,” her brother tells their older sister as the car flies down the street.
“It was yellow,” she defends.
“Not when you went through,” he informs her with a shake of his head.
Seeing that she’s about to miss a turn, their sister quickly flicks the blinker then turns into the right lane, cutting off the car behind them.
“And you totally cut that person off,” he points out her dangerous driving.
Her sister rolls her eyes. “Next song,” she tells him as poker face comes to a close.
With a nefarious smile, he selects the next song. “This one’s just for you,” he taunts her.
An upbeat melody starts to play and an artist starts to sing. “… Have you ever met a girl that you tried to date…”
Her sister groans, annoyed with her brother. He’s teasing her about her current ‘friend’ by playing Just a Friend by Biz Markie.
Her sister’s annoyed mood quickly dissipates as her brother and her sing along to the song. By the time the verse “you, you got what I need” plays, they’re all joyously singing.
She rubs her chest to soothe the heavy heart her memory created. She misses her brother’s gangly form. The other day she saw someone thin as a toothpick with arms to match and she thought of her brother. Shaking her head against her sudden need to talk to her brother, she focuses on the present.
“So, how was your week?” she asks her friend, distracting herself.
He answers and soon they arrive at the coffee shop. He parks the car and quickly texts someone.
They continue talking as they enter the coffee shop and wait in line. But then her friend gets a phone call. He excuses himself, telling her to go ahead and order.
She’s confused by his behavior but quickly dismisses it in favor of determining what pastry to order. As she’s debating between a chocolate muffin or a croissant, she hears an “excuse me” that sounds vaguely familiar. But it isn’t until someone taps her shoulder that she turns around to a gangly form that stands at well above six feet.
She’s overwhelmed with emotions; her eyes well up with happy tears and her throat tightens. She opens and closes her mouth a couple times but words fail her.
He steps forward and opens his arms to her. Immediately, she accepts his hug, wrapping her arms tightly around him in return. God, she missed him.